Maori TattoosTā moko is the permanent body and face marking by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. It is distinct from tattoo and tatau in that the skin was carved by uhi (chisels) rather than punctured. This left the skin with grooves, rather than a smooth surface.
It was brought by Māori from their Eastern Polynesian homeland, and the implements and methods employed were similar to those used in other parts of Polynesia (see Buck 1974:296, cited in References below).
In pre-European Māori culture, many if not most high-ranking persons received moko, and those who went without them were seen as persons of lower social status. Receiving moko constituted an important milestone between childhood and adulthood, and was accompanied by many rites and rituals. Apart from signalling status and rank, another reason for the practice in traditional times was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex. Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks (called raperape) and thighs (called puhoro). Women usually wore moko on their lips (kauae) and chins. Other parts of the body known to have moko on it include the foreheads, buttocks, thighs, neck and backs of women, and the backs, stomachs and calves of men.
Maori tribal tattoos (source)
The tattoists were considered Royal and special.
Instruments UsedOriginally tohunga-ta-moko (moko specialists) used a range of uhi (chisels) made from albatross bone which were hafted onto a handle, and struck with a mallet. The pigments were made from the awheto for the body colour, and ngarehu (burnt timbers) for the blacker face colour. The soot from burnt kauri gum was mixed with fat to make pigment, also. The pigment was stored in ornate vessels named oko, which were often buried when not in use. The oko were handed on to successive generations. Men were predominantly the moko specialists, although King records a number of women during the early 20th century who also took up the practice. There is also a remarkable account of a woman prisoner-of-war in the 1830s who was seen putting moko on the entire back of the wife of a chief
ChangesKing talks about changes which evolved in the late 19th century when needles came to replace the uhi as the main tools. This was a quicker method, less prone to possible health risks, but the feel of the moko changed to smooth. Women continued receiving moko through the 20th century, but moko on men stopped around the 1860s in line with changing fashion and acceptance by Pākehā (white New Zealanders).
Tā moko TodaySince 1990 there has been a resurgence in the practice of moko for both men and women, as a sign of cultural identity and a reflection of the general revival of the language and culture. Not all moko applied today is done using tattoo machines. Recently there has been a strong revival of the use of uhi (chisels). Women too have become more involved as practitioners, such as Christine Harvey of the Chathams, Henriata Nicholas in Rotorua and Julie Kipa in Whakatane. Te Uhi a Mataora was recently established by practitioners to discuss issues facing the art form, such as the practice by non-Māori, an issue which is increasingly of concern to Māori
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